Friday, April 29, 2016

The transgender phenomenon: Targeting Target

Target's newly announced policy on use of its restrooms and fitting rooms has quickly become the hot-button issue among evangelical Christians. The retail giant's invitation to transgender people to use the room corresponding to their gender identity instead of their sex at birth has prompted a debate on how followers of Jesus should respond.

The American Family Association, as it is wont to do, called for a boycott. By April 29, more than one million people had signed on. Other evangelicals questioned such a tactic, writing blog posts to explain why they believe God's people should take a different approach.

My wife and I are no strangers to boycotts. We have wielded the boycott sword many times since the mid-1980s. For various reasons, we've boycotted Disney, Holiday Inn, all the major oil/gas companies except Exxon, all the national chain drug stores, two convenience store chains and one brand of ketchup. For years, we boycotted products made in China. The latter was a real challenge in the early and mid-1990s when we would try to find stuffed animals for our daughter.

We no longer default to the boycott position when a business announces policies that conflict with biblical standards of morality. We haven't ruled out the possibility of boycotting, but we have decided in recent years it is not typically the best way for us to be ambassadors for Christ in our community.

We shop at the Super Target near our home probably more than any other store. I visited that store one night last week to purchase a couple of items and to get the manager's name for an email or letter I intended to write. Instead, I visited with one of the executive team members. I didn't vilify her employer or threaten a boycott. During the conversation, I asked her if they expected the policy to result in a line of people waiting to use the family restroom, which can be locked. I also inquired about whether they planned to have a security guard posted outside the restrooms. This young lady did not act defensively but responded politely to my questions.

Linda and I haven't decided definitively what our response to Target will be in the long run. For now, I hope to continue the conversation with this Target team member and see what steps the store takes regarding this policy issued from headquarters.

My conclusion -- and recommendation to my evangelical brothers and sisters -- at this point is: We should allow room for Christian liberty on this one. Whatever a fellow believer/church member decides about the call to boycott Target, it is not an essential on which we should divide. And we should not cast recriminations at those who choose differently than us.

(To be continued)

* -- Photo attribution

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

What I learned when my mother died

It was three months ago yesterday that our mother's body was lowered into the earth at a cemetery in Little Rock, Ark. The woman my brother and I called Mom for about six decades had entered the presence of Jesus three days earlier after more than 96 years of this life. The last 12 days of her earthly pilgrimage were spent in a hospital as her health declined and she awaited the call of her Savior. We -- my brother and sister-in-law, my wife and I, joined at times by our daughters -- shared those days and nights with Mom in her hospital room.

I'm finally taking time now to record some observations from those final days of her life and the days that followed. They are:

1. Life is fleeting. Even with a life of 96 years, Mom's earthly existence was "a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away" (James 4:14). While we were in Arkansas, I looked at some photos of Mom my brother had found that I had never seen. She was a beautiful girl in her 20s in goofy poses with her girlfriends while she lived and worked in Washington, D.C., during World War II. In a breath, seven decades passed, and she was a shell of her once vibrant self, helplessly captive to her mortality.

2. Guidance is vital. Mom had an advanced medical directive to help guide us in case she was unable to express her desires for end-of-life care. Even then, it was not easy. We spent time praying, pondering, and discussing. God blessed my brother and me with wise counsel from his close friend, a physician who had gone through a similar experience with his mother, and a friend of mine who is a leading, evangelical medical ethicist. We believe God's guidance was affirmed in the days that followed our decision-making on Mom's treatment.

3. Hymn singing is helpful. Decades of singing old hymns bore fruit in that hospital room. We -- and sometimes I alone -- sang "Amazing Grace" and "Great Is Thy Faithfulness" and "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" and others. I enjoy many modern songs, but the old ones we sang with the saints in worship for decades -- memorable in their lyrics and tunes -- were the ones we could remember at the bedside of a woman who loved them. I don't know if she could understand what we were singing, but we could. And that was important.

4. Going home is possible. The memorial service for Mom in Little Rock proved a surprising blessing -- for me at least. We gathered with Mom's longtime friends and fellow church members but also friends whom we had shared life with in that church family decades earlier. Some had taught and mentored us. Many had loved us. Some we had not seen in decades -- and likely will not see again in this life. Our gathering to honor Mom and to worship God turned into a gracious gift I did not expect: It turns out you can go home after all.

All of these are reminders of God's grace. Even in death, and sometimes especially in death, there is His grace.